On taking over the tourism portfolio during a pandemic
It’s the best job ever. The Prime Minister put two really important portfolios together, the Tourism Minister and the Associate Minister of Finance, because he wants to send a signal that the visitor economy is big business. If you look at it by the numbers, it is Canada’s third largest service export. After oil and gas in Alberta, it’s our number two export. People don’t think about that. They think it’s ag, they think it’s forestry, but after oil and gas, when you add up all the people that go to Banff and Waterton, that come to the Stampede, that come to Folk Fest or Fringe, it’s our No. 2 export.
But we’ve always taken a bit of a passive approach to tourism, like it’s just going to happen. We have to bring people here, and I hope, through the Federal Tourism Growth Strategy, to embed the visitor economy into the industrial strategy of the country, which is what our competitors do.
What does that mean?
Since 1961, there has been a federal tourism policy council in the U.S., chaired by Secretary [Gina] Raimondo. Their mission is to bring more people to the U.S., and over the last 61 years they’ve been pretty successful at it. We are the low performers on our continent. By the GDP numbers, Mexico does better on tourism than we do, with four per cent, as does the U.S., with three. For us it’s two. The French get eight per cent of their GDP out of tourism. There’s a gap there we have to close.
On developing and maintaining a workforce for tourism operators…
With the pandemic, people left the sector. We had people at the end of the boomers, beginning of Gen X saying, ‘We’re done, we’re out. We’re not going back to work, or if we do, we’re doing it on our terms.’ So part of our job is to send a clear signal to people that this is a fabulous sector.